Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soda Protests

Years ago, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s I was dumbfounded to realize that our kids’ schools had soda dispensing machines in their cafeterias. I suggested that this was not a good thing, and that they should discontinue the practice and take those machines out because soda was about the worst thing kids could consume. I didn’t keep it in MY fridge! The schools told me that it wasn’t tenable to take them out because the contracts with the soda companies and distributors were very lucrative for the schools. My answer to that was a shrug. So what? The mere fact that the school had those dispensing machines within its walls gave all appearances that they were condoning the use of soda. It would be more expensive in the long run to keep them. At that point we didn’t know HOW expensive.

Skip forward a few years, er, ah, decades, and what do we have? Suggestions that soda should be taxed! I think that nothing any one of us decides to put into our mouths should be taxed. Namely because you never know what someone is going to decide we need to be protected from next. It might be cauliflower. Or radishes. Or good healthy hog fat. But wait, they already subsidized that out of existence. “The other white meat,” indeed – the hogs are so skinny now nobody wants to eat pork!

Judith Levine in an article she wrote in Seven Days, says it well. “So, keep the junk off the market. Pour on the industry regulation. End the corn subsidies that siphon high-fructose corn syrup into virtually every U.S.-made processed food and thence into the bloodstreams of American eaters. Support organic farms. Require schools to serve lentils and whole-grain bread, broccoli and watermelon.”

In other words, teach your children well, by example and not by punishment.  Sin Taxes are ... yucky.  They have that singy smell of outraged morality – the ‘I’m better than you are’ syndrome.

That is not to say that I agree with a very conservative woman by the name of Kate O'Beirne, who reportedly said, at a Republican Strategy Meeting, “Obesity is a substantial national problem that the federal government should have nothing to do with. It is largely a cultural problem.” 

Because the Federal government IS directly responsible for obesity, for paying farmers to grow corn and soy and changing our wheat so that our bodies don’t even recognize it and telling people not to eat animal fat, and then foisting the genetically modified grains, sugars, and fat back into our diets, very often hidden.

Oxymoron of the moment? The fact that since warning people that dairy fat is going to give us heart attacks people have turned to 1% or 2% milk. That’s ancient history, and the people have gotten fat without the dairy fat and had the heart attacks, too! But whatever happened to the cream? The fat? Well, we know now that it’s consolidated into some kind of weird machine-made cheese, and they’re slathering humongous portions of it over commercially made pizzas and who knows what else! But I mean where did it go all these years past? You can bet it was coming back to us in some hidden form. Better to drink your nature-ly balanced whole milk than only parts of it here and there.

Things get very crazy when the government gets involved in our food.

And that’s why it’s a very good thing that Vermont is reclaiming its ability to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” as Michael Pollan put it so simply. When everything comes to your table whole and fresh and unadulterated and you cook it and sauce it and butter it to your own taste, then you’re kicking the government right out the window.

Many people are taking the “mostly plants” part of that exhortation quite seriously, and more people are becoming vegetarian for one day a week or every day until supper – partial vegetarians – because they will not eat CAFO* meat –  supermarket meats; and grass-fed and free-range meat is expensive – for some people, too expensive and they can’t afford it at all.

O’Beirne touched on this affordability angle. She said that parents who couldn’t  stuff at least a bowl of cereal and a banana down their kids’ throats in the morning are criminally negligent.  She was saying that in defense of her position that schools should not be feeding kids breakfast. Is it criminally negligent to be poor, to be sleeping in a car, to not have a bowl, to live in a food wasteland, to not be able to afford a fast-disappearing species of banana? I think it’s tragic, but criminally negligent?

People are very, very upset about her elitist words.

As for Vermonters, if we become the breadbasket for the northeast – Montreal, Boston and New York City – maybe with those economics of scale we will be about to afford our own good food and help feed those who can’t, too. That’s what the Executive Summary of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is hinting at, and we’ve got farmers and fooders who will be very happy to spend their lives making it come true. 
It’s all coming together, folks, but don’t take your shoulder from that boulder – keep it moving, however slightly, up.

*Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation

So, how ‘bout some fat...
I’m here to tell you that cooking for two is lots easier than cooking for four. Coring two apples is not a chore, while coring four begins to be. Making an apple pie? Priceless.  I am coring two apples to roast the halves, and serve them with this lovely pasta dish that’s made with potatoes as well as pasta, caramelized onions, and three kinds of cheese. It appeared in Esquire magazine back in the dark ages, I think maybe even 1979. It is scrumptious and once or twice every decade I bring it out and make an utter flurry of appelzangrubincheeser.  You can make half a recipe for 2 people, and you can serve it with baked apples instead of sauce, and you can use any kind of cheeses you like – last time I used Parmesan, Cabot, and Gruyere.  It’s a Swiss Alpine dish, and it calls itself rugged.

Use cheeses from mild to strong, such as Emmentaler, Gruyere, Sbrinz (hard).  Served with big bowls of applesauce.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 large  onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces potatoes, peeled, quartered, sliced thickly (1 very large)
  • 10 ounces tubular macaroni such as penne or elbow
  • 4 ounces shredded Emmentaler
  • 4 ounces shredded Gruyere
  • 3 ounces grated Sbrinz (or Parmesan or Romano)
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large skillet melt butter and oil over low heat.  Add onion and sauté slowly, turning frequently to brown evenly.  Cook about twenty minutes or until the onions have turned a rich brown.  Set aside.
Cook potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then add macaroni and cook 6 to 8 minutes, until nearly done but still firm.  Drain under cold running water and set aside.

Mix together three cheeses in a small bowl.  Heat cream in small saucepan just until barely simmering.  Whisk in 1/3 of the cheese until sauce is melted and smooth.  Set aside.

Heat oven to 375°.  Butter bottom and sides of a large, rather deep baking dish.  In large bowl toss together potato/macaroni with second third of cheese, salt and pepper.  Place in baking dish.  Pour cheese sauce evenly over the mixture, sprinkle with remaining cheese, arrange onion slices on top.

Cover dish with aluminum foil.  Bake fifteen to twenty minutes until the cheese is melted and the mixture thoroughly hot.  Serve at once with tart applesauce.  Makes four servings.

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